Book Review – Revised Expositor’s Commentary on 1 & 2 Peter & Jude (J Darryl Charles)

I’ve already reviewed a number of commentaries in this volume of the Revised Expositor’s Bible Commentary (see Hebrews, Revelation, John’s Letters). The same complements on the nice layout apply here.

J Darryl Charles has provided the commentary on 1 & 2 Peter and Jude. The big danger with this commentary series is that it can fall through the gaps between an expositional and an academic commentary. It is aimed at “expositors”, but does not always provide enough space to really engage with the exegetical and theological issues that can be raised. Its strength therefore is in helping the reader to appreciate the meaning and flow of the argument, and briefly filling in background historical details or scriptural cross-references that will elucidate the text. There are brief pointers for application, but this series is not an exposition in the style of the Bible Speaks Today series. For those preparing a sermon or essay on the passage being commented on, I expect they would actually want to consult more detailed commentaries, but this commentary will still have value as a reference book for those wanting to quickly get an overview of a section of these epistles.

In the introduction to the 1 Peter commentary, Charles argues that it is reasonable to believe Peter authored this epistle. He acknowledges some differences in style to 2 Peter, but he gives a list of 41 similarities between the two epistles, which weaken the case for separate authors. In the commentary on 1 Peter, he highlights Peter’s concern for ethical living, which is rooted in eschatology. He notes that the epistle is filled with imperatives, and though it has suffering as a theme, its goal is not to provide a “theology of suffering” but rather to present a Christian ethic which responds to suffering by following the example of Christ.

The commentaries on 2 Peter and Jude have a fairly lengthy introduction which argues for Petrine authorship of 2 Peter, and lists the parallels with Jude. Despite the similarities, the purposes are different: Peter is more concerned with ethics than combating heresy. If Peter is combating anything, it is more likely sexual libertarianism than gnosticism. He presents the Lord’s coming as a day of moral reckoning and calls us to live virtuously. Charles believes that Peter even warns against the possibility of “loss of call” for the Christian. In the introduction to Jude, Charles considers the arguments against an early dating to be merely speculative. Jude uses examples of those who were privileged but who became dispossessed as warnings against apostasy.

For those who cannot afford to buy individual commentaries on each book of the New Testament, the Revised Expositor’s Bible Commentary represents a good compromise – offering essentially six commentaries for the price of one. While none of the individual commentaries would be described as “must haves”, they will prove useful to those who do not have the time or money available to consult the larger commentaries.

Book Review – Baker Exegetical Commentary on 1 Peter (Karen Jobes)

In this commentary on 1 Peter, Karen Jobes makes some important contributions to the academic study of this epistle, while at the same time providing an excellent resource for pastors and Bible students who want to wrestle with the meaning and application of the text. The introduction is comprehensive and defends traditional authorship of the letter (bolstered by a thorough appendix on the quality of the Greek which indicate an author whose first language was not Greek) and and early date (based largely on the observation that the letter does not address state-sponsored persecution). She also puts forward her thesis that the Christians to whom Peter writes had been recolonised by the Roman empire – literally exiled and living as resident aliens. She shows throughout the commentary how this makes many of Peter’s points particularly apt, but acknowledges that the main thrust of the argument does not depend on whether his readers are literal exiles or not.

The commentary itself is very thorough, and manages to deal with issues of Greek grammar and syntax without losing focus on the message of the book. Jobes seems to have a very good understanding of the types of questions that preachers will be asking of the text, and while this is not an exposition of 1 Peter, it is full of theological and pastoral observations. As with all volumes in the Baker Exegetical Commentary series, the layout is excellent, including the full text of the passage being commented on, and with regular summaries of argument. Technical notes are kept out of the way at the end of each section rather than as footnotes, and Greek is both transliterated and translated.

Peter quotes from and alludes to the Old Testament regularly in this letter, and whenever he does, Jobes highlights not just the passage quoted but similarities in the flow of argument and thought (especially with Psalm 34).

There is a substantial section devoted to dealing with the difficult passage at the end of chapter 3. She rejects the view that Christ preached through Noah to Noah’s generation, and also the descent into hell view, in favour of the modern consensus that views 1 Enoch as the background to the passage – the risen and ascended Christ has proclaimed victory over fallen angelic beings and powers. She differentiates between Paul’s use of ‘flesh’ (Greek sarx), which connotes our sinful human nature, to Peter’s which is merely referring to bodily life on earth (as opposed to the eternal spiritual state Jesus was in after his resurrection). This means that her interpretation of a number of verses does not fit well with the English translations, which use the word “body” as a translation (for example, in her view baptism in 3:25 is said not to morally transform the believer, rather than not physically wash the believer that most modern translations imply).

It is also of interest to see how a female commentator in a conservative evangelical commentary series approaches the injunctions of 3:1-6 concerning a wife’s submission to her husband. She (rightly in my view) interprets this section along with the preceding section addressed to slaves as being motivated by Peter’s concern for the vulnerable situation that wives and slaves find themselves in if they convert to Christianity. Slaves and wives found themselves right at the bottom of the social ladder of their day, and so Peter writes pastorally, and should therefore not be criticised for failing to undermine these social structures. She defends Peter against modern critics by claiming that he dignifies slaves and wives by affirming their rights to their own religious beliefs.

She notes that Peter leaves the details of how submission is to be worked out to the wives and husbands themselves (for example, would an unbelieving husband allow his wife to worship with the Christian community). She also contrasts Peter’s teaching on wives and husbands with Paul’s, which is targetted at believing couples. While she indicates a moderately complementarian leaning by affirming that the NT does envisage some form of “submission” from wives to husbands, she stresses the freedom that is given to the married couple to work this out between themselves, without specifying the exact details of how this works out in practice. The implication is that in a Christian marriage, this “submission” should have a very different dynamic to that found in other marriages of Peter’s day. She quotes approvingly an unamed evangelical who states that while the NT teaches a wife to submit, it does not ever give the husband the right to demand it.

I found this an excellent commentary to consult as I studied my way through 1 Peter recently. It provides answers not just for exegetical questions, but pointers for application, and discussion of theological implications. Her thesis concerning the recipients of the letter and her appendix assessing whether the quality of the Greek rules out Petrine authorship will probably be of more use to academics than Bible teachers, but these are kept separate from the main commentary so they do not get in the way for those not requiring such information.

Book Review – The Message of 1 Peter (Edmund Clowney)

This volume in the Bible Speaks Today series presents the main themes of 1 Peter as the suffering that Christians must face as “resident aliens” in a world of rebels against God. The introduction is brief, and the style of commentary is expository – almost a series of sermons. At over 230 pages, the material is covered quite slowly, allowing Clowney to take time to discuss other related passages, and use examples from church history. There are places where it approaches being an academic commentary, for example a number of pages are devoted to the problematic section in 3:18-22, establishing his interpretation very methodically, and utilising a number of quotes from apocryphal writings to bolster his case.

The theme of suffering runs through the whole book, and it is presented as unavoidable for Christians, but beneficial in developing character, an opportunity to meet evil with good, and an occasion for witness. Most importantly it is the route to glory, as we follow in the footsteps of Jesus from suffering to glory.

Along the way, there is consideration of the mutual submission that should exist between Christians, and Clowney downplays differences in the instructions to husbands and wives in chapter 3. He argues that submission is to people (as made in the image of God), not structures, and warns against the dangers of “political” and “liberation” theologies.

The book closes with three appendices, the first two essentially being extended footnotes, and the third develops the background of eldership in the Old Testament, to augment the exposition of 1 Peter 5. As with others in the series it includes a study guide for small groups to use.

Although I feel that the book was slightly too long for the series it is part of, taking time to explore the subject of suffering will be beneficial to any Christian who reads it. Its thoroughness will be appreciated by those looking for inspiration on sermons and Bible studies who have the time to read it.